The solar eclipse set to occur on August 21 is causing quite a bit of anticipation. According to NASA, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth and as a result the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching Earth. During a solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow onto Earth. It’s truly a spectacular sight. However, experts want to remind everyone not to look directly at the eclipse.
Hawke Yoon, MD, Attending Physician for Ophthalmology at Lurie Children’s, warns, “Although it’s a bit of an oversimplification, you really can ‘burn’ your retina by directly looking at the sun for more than a few seconds. The problem with the solar eclipse is that there’s an actual event that makes people want look for an extended time.” The retina’s role in the eye is to receive light that the lens has focused, convert the light into neural signals, and send these signals on to the brain for visual recognition. A retinal burn can be very dangerous and result in permanent disability. Dr. Yoon says, “With solar retinopathy the damage happens with a photochemical and thermal burn (i.e. temperature burn).”
Dr. Yoon stresses that while there are many factors involved with how much damage is possible even just looking directly at the solar eclipse for a few seconds can cause damage to the eyes. “If you want to look at the solar eclipse, you need to wear appropriate protection – special eye glasses,” says Yoon. “These are glasses that filter or block the harmful wavelengths emitted from the solar eclipse. Regular sunglasses and eclipse glasses are not the same!”
Learn more about the upcoming solar eclipse at NASA.gov.